A medievalist’s motivating thought

The List of Tasks is not an opposing army that will overwhelm me all at once. Think of “lists” in the medieval sense. My list is an orderly line of knights waiting for me to joust with them one by one, and I am Lancelot* and can knock them all down.


*If you prefer a feminist image, I am Silence and can knock them all down. But I’ve been reading as an immasculated woman (I think the term is Susan Schibanoff’s) for so long that I’m fine with being Lancelot. Besides, sometimes Lancelot cross-dresses, so he’s a multi-valent figure anyway.

1193 words

They’re on one of the revisions, not on anything I planned to work on today. I wish I weren’t so rigid about wanting to Stick to the Plan. It’s all forward progress and all good. The Plan changed partly because of (what else?) CATS. So I can roll with the punches and get something done anyway.

And maybe tomorrow I can be all structured and organized, and do one thing after the other and march through the list and Conquer All The Things.

Or have the routine overturned by the vet, who knows.

Nearly 1200 words on the day, and I am going to declare victory and get out while there is some daylight and semi-warmth to enjoy outside.

Writing desks and inspiration


That looks like a real person’s desk. I especially like the pots and pans on the shelves in the corner, and the plate of eggs. If you’re spending your time on actually living and working, then you have less time for cleaning up. You stack up the books you’re using, the presents you need to wrap, the bills that want paying, and you try to keep All The Things in the front of your mind. Or the back. Whatever. If the space where there’s room for a desk is in the kitchen, then you share your space with Le Creuset. If you’re me, then you share with the latest feline invader, the mending heap, and the stuff that really truly definitely this week is going to get shipped off to the youngest relatives (unlike the last 20 weeks, when thing after other thing kept coming up).

I need this writing inspiration because tomorrow I am going to get back to work. I didn’t get a thing done on Thursday or Friday (interruptions to routine, distractions, antsiness) and then I decided to take the weekend off because clearly I needed a break. Unfortunately, breaks allow me a chance to worry about the Dire State of Higher Education in general and the state (dire, of course, though less dire than some) of Large Regional U in particular. These thoughts are not good for my mental health. Unless someone with more clarity than I can muster tells me it’s time to go to career Plan B, I need to stop worrying and go back to The Book. And Sir John says Book, and he’ll tell me if he thinks it’s time for Plan B.

(Actually I think it may be time to tackle some revisions and let the Book sit for a week, but the principle is the same: focus on what I am supposed to be doing now, rather than worrying about what may never happen.)


On note-taking

I mean taking notes on books or articles, not during talks/lectures. I’m bad at working out what the main points are while I’m listening. Jon Jarrett‘s posts about seminars (like this one about Chrodegang [gesundheit]) always amaze me in their specificity. I suppose that sort of listening skill is an Oxbridge thing, honed during tutorials if not earlier.

But actually, I seem to be bad at taking notes on written works, as well. Sometimes I take down quantities of material that seems useful, the quick typist’s version of undergraduate-style over-highlighting, and then I don’t use it. There’s too much to sort through. Sometimes I write down a few useful quotations that I am sure I will use in my current project. Inevitably, what I wind up using is a quotation that I didn’t write down, perhaps the previous or subsequent sentence to the one I did copy out. Sometimes I outline the whole thing, briefly, just to remind myself of main topics and structure; this works reasonably well with articles and very short books, but not very well with a long book.

So I wind up wondering why I bother. Why not just put sticky notes on the pages that seem important, stack the books around my desk, and hope memory will guide me to the one I think I need when I’m looking for a quotation? In fact, that is another of my less-than-satisfactory methods of note-taking.

But this notion of “satisfactory” needs some examination. It suggests that there is an ideal method, one that leads to having exactly the right quotation copied out and ready to paste into my document at the point where I need it, without a lot of extraneous material to read through. And that presupposes that when I read, my argument is already so well developed that I know exactly what I will want in the way of quotations. Once in awhile, that is the case (especially when I have written a rough draft full of notes like “FIND SUITABLE CRITIC ON CAMEMBERT’S SMELL”). But usually, I’m reading before I start writing, or sometimes during the rough-draft stage. I have an idea of where I’m going, but it may change in the process of reading and writing. So the point of taking notes at all is just a way of concentrating my mind on the way someone else has dealt with ideas similar to or related to mine. Even if my notes are too sparse or too prolix, and the bit I need is on a page I neither marked nor wrote about, having written about the other pages reminds me that Critic X wrote about smelly cheese.

In the best cases, taking notes leads me to arguing with, or ringing changes on, someone else’s argument. This is really useful; this clarifies my thoughts and may even be copy-paste-able into my document with only light editing. But even if I tried to make myself do that kind of note-taking all the time, I don’t think it would always work.

My note-taking is inefficient, but I am not all sure that anything else would be better. Taking notes helps me to think, and thinking is what it’s really all about.

Writing, exercise, and comfort

In general, though I love getting up and writing immediately, I get more done if I work out first thing. Once I get stuck into something, I don’t like to leave it. That is, I can take breaks for lunch or cat play-therapy,* but those allow me to go on thinking about research. Going to the gym is a much bigger undertaking, and while I’m there I’m also working/playing at modern languages. So it becomes harder to work in a workout, later in the day. That said, weather and climate issues often keep me at home in the morning.

Thanks to mild temperatures recently, however, I’ve been doing well at getting to the gym early, and I get more work done because I feel that I have the whole day, uninterrupted, ahead of me (the luxury of research leave! Believe me, I do know what a privilege this is and I am enjoying the hell out of it). Even if I get twitchy or do some procrastinating, there’s time to sink into a task and get a significant amount done.

Today, though, I’m drifty and distracted, and I realized it’s because I’m achy and uncomfortable. I’ve been increasing my workouts a little, and I’m feeling the effects. In the long run, this will pay off in more stamina and better sleep. For today, though, I need to manage the discomfort. I hope some ibuprofen will rescue the afternoon. Even if it doesn’t, I have already written about 260 words, and I could work on citations or read and take notes. Useful work can still be done in sub-optimal conditions.

If I were teaching, I wouldn’t even notice my current state. It’s a low enough level of discomfort that I could easily be distracted from it. But sitting in a room with books, Sabra, and the computer . . . that’s just not enough input to keep me from thinking about the body.

*For them, not me: trying to get Sabra and the others to get along. I think of it as play therapy, but from their point of view, it may be joint military exercises.


Why is there a little tuft of your fur in my Latin dictionary, marking extrico-exuvium? Or maybe it’s the previous page, extero-extremus?

Felix Felis litteratus perniciosus.

(Sorry, hadn’t caffeinated myself yet—although Glendower is a felix sort of cat.)

A link about lecturing


This is brilliant. Jem Bloomfield reflects on all the ways in which a lecturer does respond to students, and does so infinitely better than a recorded lecture could. I wish I’d written this. I’ve thought many of these things, but piecemeal, not all at once, or in passing, not with full attention to the implications of what I was saying/thinking.

Spread it around, blog-peeps, and use it to defend the lecture—the live and in-person lecture—as one among many useful tools in the teacher’s kit, one among many reasons to go to a bricks-and-mortar college, one among many ways in which experienced faculty are worth our salt.

Glendower says:


I am working in the dining room today, because CATS. I came back from lunch in the kitchen to find Glendower crouched on my open laptop, and the above notes inserted into the document I was working on.